All Talk And No Action

Conferences haven't changed much (Photo credit: Fritz Cohen via Wikimedia Commons)
Conferences haven’t changed much (Photo credit: Fritz Cohen via Wikimedia Commons)

When you have been to as many conferences as I have, especially those dealing with politics and public policy, you start to see the same people. Not necessarily the same faces, but the same types. Let’s see if you recognize some of them too:

Details, Details — This is the fellow who, who presented with a straightforward clause in a very simple resolution, will query the placement of every comma, semi-colon, and article. Nuance isn’t his middle name, but nuisance certainly is.

I Don’t Understand — This person always acts like he’s in the wrong breakout session, or possibly even the wrong conference. In spite of having listened to the same panel of speakers as everyone else, he never seems to know what the topic is, and clearly has not read any of the background information provided. He’s the one who interrupts every 15 minutes with agonizingly obvious questions.

Snoozer — You can find one of these at just about any gathering, particularly if the conference room is warm, or if everyone’s just had lunch. This is the person who distracts you by nodding off; she either snores very loudly, or you have to watch with horrified fascination to see when she will go nose first into the carpet.

Social Gadfly — These people attend conferences strictly for the schmoozing and boozing. Unfortunately, they’re not very good at either. At the opening reception, if you look friendly, they will glom on to you and then sit beside you at every session throughout the conference. They will talk your ear off, usually about personal stuff, at close range, and smelling strongly of rum.

Free Food And Drink — You see these people at every meal, in every hospitality suite, and in the corridors on coffee break. Strangely, you never see them in the actual conference sessions. You suspect they may be local college students, guests from the wedding being held three floors up, or strays from last week’s sales conference.

Point of Order — This woman, who has the entire book “Robert’s Rules of Order” memorized, will halt proceedings frequently and loudly, chastising the speaker, the moderator and the audience for not adhering to procedure. This is even when the moderator has declared the session to be informal.

Axe to Grind — There’s always at least one person with “issues” at these things. They attend conferences solely so they can stand up as often as possible to rant. They usually don’t bother with a microphone and, nine times out of ten, the things they’re peeved about have nothing to do with the topic of the gathering.

Precocious Youngster — A relatively rare species, this one comes in two types. Both are young, well-groomed, astonishingly well-informed, and articulate. One will impress your socks off and make you wonder if your kids will be as bright. The other will have been told he or she is very bright too many times, and be obnoxious enough to make you want to cuff them.

Commentator — This person, usually an older male, takes the floor to “speak to an issue.” His comments will be long and rambling, and will never come to a point, pose a question or add anything of value to the session. Mostly he’s there to hear the sound of his own voice.

Moderator — Finally, I’ve determined there are two types of moderators or chairpersons: Bad and Worse. A Bad Moderator will let every character in the room run roughshod over the proceedings. Point of Order Lady will never be told where to put her copy of Robert’s Rules; nor will Axe to Grind Guy be told to save it for a one-on-one after the main presentation. A half hour meeting will drag to five, perhaps six hours under a Bad Moderator.

The Worse Moderator — Embittered by sitting through one too many Bad sessions, will cut the power to the sound system and throw conference literature at anyone who dares approach the mic. They wrap up the session within 10 minutes and spend the rest of the allotted time at the bar, head in hands.

The mods, at least, have my sympathies.


Many Are Called, But…

If you live in a city, you probably think that cell phones are ubiquitous. You see people using them in the grocery store, or while driving their car and even while in the bathroom.

As hard as it may be to believe, there are still plenty of places in the world where cell phone coverage isn’t available or is just now coming in.

Can you hear me now? (Credit: Alan D. Wilson, via Wikimedia Commons)
Can you hear me now? (Credit: Alan D. Wilson, via Wikimedia Commons)

Take the far north: Service providers are reluctant to set up in places like Inuvik. It’s hard to make a profit when you have a huge land mass to cover, and a very low population.

But those are only the two most obvious problems. Consider the issue of where to locate towers:

TECHNICIAN ONE: Joe, it’s Mike. We’ve lost coverage around Tuktoyaktuk again. Can you check the tower?
TECHNICIAN TWO: Sure. [Pause]. There’s no tower.
MIKE: What do you mean there’s no tower?!
JOE: Well you know how last month, we had to move it 500 feet so it wouldn’t be on the caribou stampede path?
MIKE: Yeah?
JOE: It looks like we put the tower on a frozen lake.
MIKE: A lake?! But the map…
JOE: Was wrong. And we just started spring thaw here. Know anyone with cold weather scuba gear? A really strong fishing pole?

Using a cell phone would also be difficult. Residents must wear, on average, 54 layers of clothing to stay warm. You couldn’t hear a phone ring under all that insulation, so you would have to A) Use the vibrate feature to know someone was calling and B) Keep the phone close to the skin so that the layers wouldn’t muffle the vibration as well.

This means that normally quiet, sane people will suddenly be seen to leap into the air, fall to the ground, and laugh hysterically while digging through layers of clothes to stop the tickling.

Once the phone has been extracted, the user would have less than 2.5 seconds to stuff it under the 23 layers of headgear to take the call. The phone you see, could stand 2.3 seconds of exposure to the extreme cold. At 2.4 seconds it would have become cold enough to stick to the user’s ear, requiring the application of either boiling water or surgery to remove. At 2.5 seconds, the phone would freeze solid and shatter. “Hello, are you there? Your call is breaking up!”

Using the special features of cell phones would be just as difficult. Text messages are hard enough to decipher at the best of times. When entered with gloved fingers, something like: MEETING RUNNING LATE. CUL8R! would become MNERERYTIONMGH RTUINMNMINMGF LKASTRER. CVU89TYER!@

Camera phones would be equally useless, at least outdoors. It’s dark 24 hours a day for roughly half the year in the far north, and if it isn’t dark, it’s snowing. Photos would have to be captioned: “Bob in his black parka, 2 p.m. If you squint you can see the flash reflecting off his visor.” Or “Polar bears checking out our white pickup truck, blizzard of December ’05.”

Speaking of polar bears, can you just imagine if any of the local wildlife managed to snag your cell phone? Trying to get the charges reversed from your bill would be a nightmare.

JULIE: Hello I need to dispute my recent charges.
DODGERS WIRELESS REP: Which ones please?
JULIE: I didn’t make 32 calls to the Aklavik Pizzeria.
REP: Ma’am, you’ll need to provide some proof that-
JULIE: They only serve pizza with seal toppings. And there’s an overfed bear passed out in my driveway, clutching the remains of my cell phone.
REP: Yeah right, why don’t you send photos of that…
JULIE: Yes, photos — I also didn’t download 425 mb of images from the Polar Bears 2014 calendar website.
REP: You can’t possibly expect me to believe…
JULIE: Further, I did not download the games Penguin Bowling, Polar Express, or Ice Fishing Derby.
REP: Ma’am this is ridiculous, I—
JULIE: Shall I put the bear on the line?

In spite of the obstacles however, it’s good to see that our northern cousins are finally getting access to the same sorts of modern conveniences we are.

Now they too can be annoying in movie theatres.




Dear Facebook, please ban motivational quote pictures

motivationalDon’t get me wrong, I loves me some positive thinking and encouraging words.

But if I see one more post that quotes the Dalai Lama, Albert Einstein, or Sophocles, I may barf.

You see, before digitization made it uber easy to share inspirational words, we only got occasional doses of motivation by picking up a copy of Bartlett’s, or by picking up a plaque at the local decor store.

Now, you can hardly log in to any social network without seeing a virtual torrent of bromides.

Oh, lighten up, you say. Where’s the harm?

Because it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

For the readers of such posts, motivation has become cheap, free, and easy. We’re deluged in positivity; it has become commoditized, in the same way that amazing, high-definition photographs of beautiful things have become commoditized.

And ask yourself, what did you do the last time you saw one of these motivational posts? Chances are you said to yourself “Wow, dude, that’s deep,” clicked Like, and moved on to the LOLcats.

You didn’t really read it, much less internalize it, or allow it to change you.

If you’re the person posting, it gives you a false sense of yourself. It makes you feel deep and profound and thoughtful, when you’re not being any of those just now, really. You could be. But posting borrowed thoughts gets in the way of coming up with something of your own.

Worst of all, constant bathing in shallow positivity doesn’t prepare you for when shit gets real. Life is not all rainbows and unicorns, and sadly, wishing doesn’t make it so. If you don’t take a realistic view of things, you can be blindsided and have no real way to cope.

Finally, it also masks the real problems people have in the rest of the world. You and I lead comfy, cozy middle-class lives, but there are billions who don’t, and positive thinking won’t help them much.

Positive thinking is useless without action. Great ideas are worthless without execution.

Having self-confidence issues? Go get something DONE. There’s a world of difference between being able to point to something and say, “Yeah, I read that” and “Yeah, I DID that.”

And if you do that enough times, who knows? Maybe people will someday be quoting you.